ROOMS WITH A WORLD VIEW
Sonia Khurana’s art engages with the vulnerabilities of mind, body and gender through installations, videos and performances
She searches for dreams in states of insomnia. She hunts for memories, resonances and associations in spaces shorn of history. She duels with the world by turning her vulnerabilities into strategies of self-preservation. With her extraordinarily engaging solo exhibition ‘Oneiric House: Round About Midnight’ currently being held in an about-to-be demolished abandoned house in New Delhi’s tony Jor Bagh locality, Sonia Khurana, 46, has emerged as a leading new media artist of our times.
24 Jor Bagh is a house that could have been built in the era just after Independence when New Delhi saw a sort of post-Art Deco phase in architecture. Not quite modernist Le Corbusier (who must have begun building in Chandigarh around the same time) but quite different in taste and form from the colonial buildings of the British. The kind of house that, say, Dev Anand would have made in a film like Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963) where he played a foreign-trained architect. Incidentally, the New Media Encyclopedia describes Khurana as “one of a number of Indian artists who received their artistic training abroad but returned to their home country to work”.
The entire house—stairwell and kitchen included—becomes an extensive site inside which Khurana shows her deeply personal and moving opus. The show has been curated by art historian and museum director Roobina Karode for the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art ( KNMA) in association with Feroze Gujral’s Outset India, which has been providing some critical platforms for contemporary art since its inception in 2011. For some years now, this Lodi Garden-facing bungalow waiting to be pulled down by builders has been given serially to art collectives to hold residencies and exhibitions by Gujral. Comprising music, videos, drawings, jottings, translights, photographs and poetic text, this major display of Khurana’s works has to be seen with time and respite to be experienced fully. “I fell in love with this space when I first saw it and spent a lot of time here over many visits to envisage how to inhabit it with my concerns. I am so happy that KNMA could help me realise this sitespecific dream,” says a beaming Khurana whose works have never been seen on this scale before.
The somewhat enigmatic title comes from the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) whose seminal work The Poetics of Space has become a sort of universal reference point for film theorists. The term oneiric, mean-
ing pertaining to dreams, here refers to the depiction of dream-like states, or the use of the metaphor of a dream to comment on and analyse “the dream factory” that is cinema. A house, wrote Bachelard, “that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space”. It is then the Oneiric House—the “space we love.” Round About Midnight recalls Miles Davis’s classic debut album of March 1957. Music has been an enduring engagement with Khurana and she uses it with great sensitivity, even maintaining its own integrity, in this exhibition repeatedly.
Khurana has transformed 24 Jor Bagh into a shrine inhabited by the virtual presence of her insomniac, classi-
WITH MUSIC, VIDEOS, DRAWINGS, JOTTINGS, TRANSLIGHTS, PHOTOGRAPHS AND POETIC TEXT, THIS MAJOR DISPLAY OF SONIA KHURANA’S WORKS IS HOUSED IN A DERELICT BUNGALOW IN DELHI’S JOR BAGH.
cal music-loving mother Bindu, her Dhrupad singer friend Wasifuddin Dagar, the Norwegian saxophonist Froy Aagre, a Sumi shaman who is chanting and dancing in a trance, ants and other presences—some revealed, some only felt. You enter through what she calls the Prelude—the first room—where she has arranged image, music and texts that give you an intuitive introduction of what is to come. Room II has a series of video and translight projections of Khurana and her mother sleeping fitfully like twins with Khurana’s poetic text being screened and recited. Insomnia: Like someone softly sitting inside the brain. Looking for lost words… as if her life is being stolen blink by blink.
The work that gives the exhibition its name is a site-specific installation. Inside a two-floor high atrium-like space, she has hung an acrylic scale model of the actual house through which a video of hundreds of black ants is being projected, making constantly changing—almost kaleidoscopic—patterns on the floor below. Then there is Room VI on the floor above with its lyrical two-channel video work ‘Somnambulist’s Song’. Here, saxophonist Aagre and Dhrupad singer Dagar perform improvisations around a composition in Raga Sohini. Aagre is playing seated on a Norwegian seashore as the tide rises inevitably around her. Dagar is seated by a lily pond in Delhi, idly singing to himself as if in eternity. Room IX has three video-computer animation works jointly called the ‘Surreal Pond’. A jewel-like image of an idealised lily pond divided in half and the mirror-imaged is projected on one screen. In two others, the pond is being emptied and re-filled constantly with the gurgling of water providing what could easily be the purest and the most evocative of sounds.
“Khurana has engaged beautifully with the poetics of dwelling and dereliction,” says Karode, adding, “She uses all—time and space, light and sound— to create the desired experience.” This experience is all the more valuable because it is impermanent. If you miss it, you would never be able to see it again in its entirety. The exhibition is open till March 9 from noon till 8 p.m.
Photograph by RAJWANT RAWAT
SONIA KHURANAAT24 JOR BAGH, DELHI